Friday, 19 December 2014

FreeFrom Companies: Beware - and play fair

A story that may have passed under the radar of many of us in the UK last month was that of multinational giant Unilever - owner of Hellman’s - issuing legal proceedings against a small US company of egg-free ‘mayo’ on the basis that it was misleading to customers - who they claimed expect any product to be called 'mayo' to have egg in it. 

One month on, and following a wave of support for the small free-from supplier, Unliver has just announced that it is dropping the case. 

It's not the only such story. Closer to home, Oatly is being sued by the Swedish Dairy Association for making milk seem 'unmodern'. As Natural Products Magazine reported recently, one of Oatly's catchphrases 'No milk. No soy. No. Badness' has 'irked' the Swedish dairy industry. 

I'm in two minds about all this. One the one hand, we can disapprove of large companies slapping smaller companies with legal action they're unlikely to be able to afford. But on the other, should we defend free-from food companies when they deploy arguably questionable marketing tactics?

Is it misleading for Hampton Creek - the company behind the vegan 'mayo' - to use an image of a plant growing within an egg as their logo (right)? Or is it the perfect representation of what their product is? Is it wrong of Oatly to link milk (and, for that matter, soya) to 'badness'? Or are they merely just trying to convey their dairy-free, soy-free and natural-ingredient-only status? 

It's a tough one. I'll confess to being a big fan of Oatly, but I'm not keen on free-from companies dissing - explicitly, subtly, or otherwise - non-free from foods, or the non-free from food industry as a whole.

There are many examples of this. The small company Designed2Eat claim to only sell food 'our bodies are designed to eat' - which they say is vegan, GF and paleo food. Setting aside the argument that we were not 'designed', but that we evolved, and that we adapted (mostly) perfectly well to consuming a grain and milk containing diet - and actually thrived to the extent we now routinely live to 100 and number 7 billion, whereas in the good old paleo days we'd be lucky to live to 40 and there were not more than 1 million - the unavoidable implication from this is that all grains, dairy and sugar are not suitable for our bodies. This is effectively repeated by The Primal Pantry - whose bars I enjoy, I might add - who claim to only use ingredients "you were born to eat" - even though human breastmilk doesn't appear to be among them. 

I don't want to pick on small brands who are doing something different and who I want to succeed, but I've seen enough claims of using only 'clean ingredients' with 'no baddies' and how non-free from ingredients are toxic or inflammatory or unnatural to come to the view, in light of the two legal cases above, that many free-from startups may need to take more care with what claims they make in future. There may be safety in numbers, but pushing the envelope a little further each time in order to try to make a name for yourself in the competitive world of free from could land a brand in unwanted hot water - and nobody wants to see that. 

Some of you may know I work on the FreeFrom Skincare Awards - a sibling award to the longer-established FreeFrom Food Awards - and common among smaller producers of natural cosmetics is the generic and questionable 'free from nasty chemicals' claim, something we aren't keen on, and which parts of the high street cosmetics industry are none too pleased about either, with some arguing that certain 'free from' claims need to be more tightly regulated or even banned. What we, as organisers, often call for is for criticism of non-natural skincare to be kept at bay: the focus should be on what is good about the products, as I argued in this blog about a scaremonger-y case not long ago.

While I have issues with paleo food being called paleo, inescapable is the fact it uses great ingredients which have lots of health benefits - such as coconuts, nuts, fruit and so on. Let's hear about that - the good stuff that's used, not the 'bad' stuff that isn't - and let's not try to mislead. It's free from gluten and milk - not free from nasty gluten and bad milk. Fact not opinion. Otherwise what results in confusion among consumers - and in extreme cases, possibly even legal action. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

In the FIC of it

A trip into town to see what was happening #14allergens-wise on the EU FIC front ...

Nothing on display in BHS's restaurant - whatsoever. So I enquired with a lady serving chips, and she referred me to a gentleman I took to be head of kitchen.

"Do you have allergen information about the meals you're serving?" I asked.

Some rooting around under counter followed and the chap produced this dog-eared, spilled-upon piece of cardboard.

"What about the individual meals?"

Ah, he gestured, yes we have something. Up came a shrink-wrapped bundle of cards, which he had I imagine had for some time, but had not yet broken open - perhaps because he had not yet been asked to. And they weren't bad at all - although they seemed more geared towards staff than customers.

Some of the vegetable dishes raised my eyebrows - parsnips with gluten, sprouts with dairy - but overall, they seem to have done reasonably well, though the sheer volume of these cards did make me wonder how easy it would be to find individual meals each time a customer requested them. I wonder if computerised facilities may eventually be required?

I tried Marks and Spencer, and this is the sign I found.

There were some GF options on the menu, but it was too busy to press them further on all this, though had I been a food sensitive individual, I'd have probably just walked away anyway ....

Allergy Mum Emma Amoscato posted a picture on Twitter recently which she spotted at a Sainsbury's cafe, below, which revealed it to be a terrific place to dine if you're lupin and mollusc allergic - but not so terrific if you have a more everyday sensitivity ...

The new laws, it's fair to say, are going to take a while to bed in, but it will be vital to persist with challenging outlets which are taking the easy option, and essential that Trading Standards / Environmental Health get involved in helping businesses do better than this - as well as enforce where necessary.  It's going to be an interesting 2015 ahead ...

Monday, 15 December 2014

Nut another one … two

Further developments regarding the M&S / Kinnerton nut-warning confusion which I blogged about last week.

To recap, M&S Made Without Dairy chocolate - made by Kinnerton - carries a “not suitable for nut allergy sufferers due to manufacturing methods” warning.

A further response from a senior source at M&S has confirmed that the chocolate IS manufactured in the nut-free zone at Kinnerton (they have a non-nut-free zone too). So why the warning?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Nut another one …

Marks & Spencer’s ‘Made Without Dairy’ chocolate is manufactured by Kinnerton’s, who operate a nut-free factory. And yet the M&S labelling for the products carry a nut warning. 

The warning is “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers due to manufacturing methods”. 

Why is this? I tried to find out. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hiccups and FIC-ups

With days to go, it’s all about EU FIC Regulation No. 1169/2011 at the moment, with coverage on the BBC, the big charities (Coeliac UK and Anaphylaxis Campaign) spreading the word, plenty of print journalism in the trade press, bloggers and advocates sharing on social media. 

Although there are major changes with respect to eating out and non pre-packed foods (in an over-simplified nutshell: any of the 14 allergens present in a loose food / prepared meal need to be somehow declared or provided on request), I want to focus on labelling on pre packed food - which I covered over a year ago here

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Total recall?

Allergen-related product recalls are a seemingly weekly occurrence, sadly, but the latest one of Genius Gluten Free Denby Steak Pies seems more significant, somehow - possibly because it's a major brand, who make very good products, and because the error is a serious one, namely a non gluten-free pie packed into gluten-free pie packaging. That's an awful lot of gluten in a pie crust.

The Food Standards Agency communicated it on Friday 28th November, and tweeted it that same day.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

What should the free from aisle be free from?

For a while social media users have been sharing pictures of arguably non-free from foods in free-from aisles at supermarkets and the issue has undoubtedly led to a number of unfortunate incidents. 

Here's MrsC with some sugar-free but wheat-containing coconut cookies at Tesco, here's some multiple-allergen-containing choux pastries in Asda, courtesy of Debs Massey, some spelty crisps from Caz again in Tesco, and some wheaty cereals in Sainsbury's, spotted by Nathan. 

And here's perhaps the biggest sin: gluten-containing flour sitting between gluten-free flours, via Alex Walker. 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Far Eastern Odyssey - or Idiocy?

You have a few weeks from the date at the top of this blog to catch up with Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey, Episode 2, originally broadcast in 2009, and repeated this weekend, in which the well-known chef discusses food allergies with a friend and former colleague, Tom Kine, while eating street food in Hanoi. The segment starts at around 39 minutes. Click here for the BBC iPlayer link - but here's an edited transcript.